Time to Die

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Y’all don’t actually think it’s not gonna go down here, right?

You think I’m just gonna be looking out for who hasn’t already seen the movie.

No, bruh, I’m here to say some shit about Blade Runner 2049, director Denis Villeneuve and producer Ridley Scott’s sequel to Scott’s 35-year-old seminal science fiction classic tour de force Blade Runner. And if this isn’t your first time snooping round Motorbreath, you’ve damn well noticed it established multiple times that Blade Runner is my favorite movie – give or take a knife fight with Casablanca, but permit me my passion.

So, when I get into spoiler mode, expect me to put a great big warning and give y’all some time to dip. But there are elements of Blade Runner 2049 I’m simply not going to be able to comment on without grabbing receipts from within the movie itself and while I’m not going to give away the ending, I sure am not going to be hiding the premise like the marketing has been. In the meantime, here’s the short spoiler-free safe mode version of my review:

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Blade Runner 2049 is not a bad movie. It is just a less hated Prometheus, a frustrating overglutted tangle of interesting ideas that are provided in a gorgeously realized future environment, provided by Dennis Gassner and famously lensed by Roger Deakins in what is almost certainly his last hope for that Cinematography Oscar. There are clearly things Blade Runner 2049 wants to be about and it so certainly wants to be about those thinks that it tries to provide overwhelming lip service from characters as much as it can and Blade Runner becomes so frequently a movie of “people talking about what’s going to happen” rather than anything happening.

Which is a weird complaint to make about a sequel to Blade Runner. Blade Runner manages to be satisfied to spend most of its running time just living with the decrepit future noir world of Los Angeles without having much action OR theme-based dialogue, but that last element is the thing. Blade Runner isn’t a movie that talks about what it wants to be about, it just is. The philosophy behind that movie lives within the world-building in itself, the melancholy and existential within the darkened rainy alleys where characters hide and they fear for their lives without having to say “I’m scared”. When Roy Batty comes to terms with his own obliviation, he doesn’t have to say “I’m ok with this”, he just smiles and talks about his favorite memories and he doesn’t even have to spell out the fact that a lot of those memories aren’t real.

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Meanwhile, Blade Runner 2049’s script by Hampton Fancher (who penned an early draft of the original) and Michael Green has Joi dumps a lengthy comfort diatribe about being a chosen one and new replicant industrialist Niander Wallace goes on and on and on about procreation and hammers on his own God complex (it should say so much that a role tailor made to accommodate Leto’s ego is squandered. He underplays and overplays different things in the wrong way that end up making him feel as nuanced as a Roger Moore Bond villain). It’s as subtle and delicate as Paul Haggis’ work.

But it still functions swiftly and effectively as a detective yarn without the profundities. That story taking place after a devastating attack that essentially rebooted the world and now in a society where replicants are stigmatized but now institutionalized members of society in their servitude. Replicant Blade Runner K (Ryan Gosling) as he discovers the remains of a replicant with marks on it that signify something so out of the ordinary, his commissioner Joshi (Robin Wright) commands him to eradicate any evidence – even and especially breathing evidence. K begins following a trail involving both ancient record and his own memory to find the result of this shocking happening and it takes him all the way to… Ugh, there we go into spoiler territory so one final word before I go on to leave those who haven’t seen Blade Runner 2049 yet.

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It’s not a bad movie. It’s not. My attitude is probably more pushback to the overwhelming acclaim it’s received but it has an almost full cast dedicated to selling its material (Leto is the only weak point while Wright is struggling as a character whose only role is to be doomsday siren) and Deakins is no slouch even on his worst day. And Blade Runner 2049 was shot on very good days, cold big overshades of digital color for exteriors and even colder personality-less exteriors, washed out and slotted with sharp lines of landscape geometry and twisting corners to have our eye moving with K down alleys. In fact the only technical aspect that doesn’t work is Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch’s score largely because it sounds like the only thing they added to Vangelis’ cues were extra BWAHHHHMMM.

But it’s convinced it’s more literate or in-depth about the concepts it nudges towards before moving on to something else. It name-drops and quotes Pale Fire and goes nowhere with that. It features a visually impressive love scene that unfortunately also banks on the assumption we haven’t already seen Her (Joi in general gains little observation towards her arc in autonomy and it ends mean-spiritedly. This is a shame because Ana de Armas gives the best performance in the film alongside Sylvia Hoeks). It drops a revolutionary subplot that feels so unearned and inconsequential to K’s investigation. It tried to lampshade a chosen one plotline as an inversion without putting in the work for that inversion except in the last ten minutes of a not-unearned-but-not-well-used 163 minute feature. And it seems to take the exact wrong idea out of Blade Runner’s world-building, overmythologizing the movie that came before it to do the exact. fucking. thing I did not want Villeneuve and company to do the moment they announced Harrison Ford’s return as ex-Blade Runner Deckard…

And now the SPOILER WARNING. Go home…

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… They made Deckard the center of the universe! Deckard is the father of the Christchild between him and Rachael (Sean Young) in a Biblical metaphor that holds less water standing next to the same year’s mother!. And since Rachael is in fact bones we saw and we never actually deal with the revelation of who the child is until the last second, the movie has to revolve around Deckard. Even when he only makes his appearance in the third act of the picture (giving an admittedly soulful performance), the film plays enough of Deckard’s audio with Rachael for us to know where it’s heading towards (maybe the one thing the secretive marketing SHOULD have focused on keeping a surprise).

It’s the Return of the Jedi effect. Pushing all the weight of a plot on one family, especially at this huge a scale, just retroactively makes the world-building feel so much more trapped and strangled. The movie doesn’t feel universal like there’s actually a story out there beyond what we’re watching.

I did say forever that Blade Runner’s world is why I love that movie so much and that world is still in Blade Runner 2049. It’s even developed in a way one would believe rooted from the previous film. And again, the genre workings within the cogs of K’s journey are never broken, especially with as brilliantly sadistic a noir villain as Hoeks’ Luv. But it’s hard to relax and just lie in that world for the running time when 2049 insists on feeding you verbal ponderings that feel half-baked and 2049 does not want to be a mood piece the way Blade Runner does, it’s really desperate to mean something that it feels no less loud than Joshi’s exclamations about how Rachael’s child breaks the world… somehow.

My greatest dreams live in Blade Runner’s world but sadly Blade Runner 2049 just feels like a rude awakening from those dreams.

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P.S. I don’t want to cry sexism over Villeneuve about this because neither time does it feel malicious or like Villeneuve thinks of women this way, but between this and last year’s Arrival both movies have a really weirdly utilitarian attitude about women’s most important function being as mothers. And not even, maternal just baby-makers. It’s… yeah, it’s weird.
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